« AnteriorContinuar »
ISAIAH liii. 8.
For the transgression of my people was he stricken.
ISAIAH has been usually styled the evangelical prophet; and had no other part of his preaching descended to us except the portion before us, it would have sufficiently vindicated the propriety of that appellation. The sufferings of the Messiah are so affectingly portrayed, and their purpose and design so clearly and precisely stated, that we seem to be perusing the writings of an apostle rather than the predictions of a prophet: the obscurity of an ancient oracle brightens into the effulgence of gospel light. In no part of the New Testament is the doctrine of the atonement more unequivocally asserted, and the vicarious nature of our Lord's passion more forcibly inculcated, than in the context of the words selected as the basis of the present discourse.
It may not be improper to premise, that there is reason to believe that the original text has, in this instance, undergone some alteration, and that it anciently stood thus, he was smitten unto death. It is thus written by Origen, who assures us that a certain Jew, with whom he disputed, seemed to feel himself more pressed by this expression than by any other part of the chapter. It is thus rendered by the Septuagint in our present copies; and if, in this instance, it had not concurred with the original, neither could Origen* have urged it with good faith nor the Jew have felt himself embarrassed by the argument which it suggested.
The Jews pretend that no single person is designed in this portion of prophecy; but that the people of Israel collectively are denoted under the figure of one man, and that the purport of the chapter is a delineation of the calamities and sufferings which that nation should undergo with a view to its correction and amendment. The absurdity of this evasion will be obvious to who considers that the person who is represented as stricken is carefully distinguished by the prophet from
* See Orig. cont. Cels. lib. i. c. 44; and Kennicott's Observations, quoted by Bishop Lowth in his Notes on Isaiah lui.--ED.
the people for whose benefit he suffered; for the transgression of my people was he stricken: in addition to which he is affirmed to be stricken even to death, which, as Origen very properly urged, agrees well with the fate of an individual, but not with that of a people.
In spite of the vain tergiversation of the Jews, and the sophistry, equally impotent, of some who bear the Christian name, this portion of ancient writ will remain an imperishable monument of the faith once delivered to the saints, of the harmony subsisting between the Old and the New Testament in relation to the scheme of mediation and the basis of hope.
That the sufferings of the Redeemer were vicarious and piacular, that he appeared in the character of a substitute for sinners, in distinction from a mere example, teacher, or martyr, is so unquestionably the doctrine of the inspired writers, that to deny it is not so properly to mistake as to contradict their testimony; it must be ascribed, not to any obscurity in revelation itself, but to a want of submission to its authority.
The doctrine in question is so often asserted in the clearest terms, and tacitly assumed as a fundamental principle in so many more; it is intermingled so closely with all the statements of truths and inculcations of duty throughout the Holy Scriptures, that to endeavour to exclude it from revelation is as hopeless an attempt as to separate colour from the rainbow or extension from matter.
It is no part of the purpose of this discourse to enter into the proof of the substitution of Christ in the place of sinners, as the defence of that doctrine will frequently engage the attention of every Christian minister.
In addressing those who are thoroughly confirmed in its belief, we may be allowed to proceed on the assumption of its truth, while we endeavour, in dependence on divine assistance, to illustrate the fitness of the scheme of substitution, and the indications which it affords of profound and unsearchable wisdom. Difficult as this subject must be allowed to be, I trust an attempt to discuss it, however feeble, is not exposed to the charge of presumption. It is one thing to presume to anticipate the counsels of Heaven, and another, after they are accomplished and exhibited as facts, humbly to explain the wisdom with which they are fraught. To have anticipated the scheme of redemption by previously perceiving that it was, of all possible plans, the fittest to be adopted by a Being of infinite wisdom, was a task to which, it is probable, no finite intellect was adequate; but to perceive some of its congruities, when it is actually laid before us, may demand nothing
[Here there is a chasm in the manuscript: but from the notes of this sermon with which the editor has been supplied, it may be filled as to substance, thus:—]
To perceive some of its congruities may require but an ordinary degree of talent and discrimination, with an upright desire to learn what
revelation teaches; and is altogether distinct from attempting to be wise above what is written.
In endeavouring to show the circumstances which render this extraordinary method of proceeding consistent with the character of God, we only pursue the guidance of the Sacred Writings and find new motives for gratitude to our Heavenly Father for his unspeakable goodness.
Yet every reflecting person must perceive that there is in this doctrine something extremely remote from ordinary apprehension, apart from the instruction derived from Holy Writ. That one of the human race, by submitting to an ignominious and painful death, should be the moral source of the salvation of an innumerable multitude of mankind, and, if duly improved, a sufficient source for the salvation of all, is surely one of the most extraordinary of the divine proceedings with regard to man. Nothing like this has ever existed. It seems to stand by itself an insulated department of Divine Providence, to contain within itself a method of acting which was never seen before, and will never be repeated.
Among men, the substitution of a righteous for a guilty person could rarely occur. There is seldom found sufficient heroism or virtue to induce an individual so to offer himself; such a combination of benevolence and of generous oblivion of self-interest as to induce such a sacrifice.
Nor would it be fit, in ordinary cases, that it should be admitted: for virtuous characters are not sufficiently numerous to admit of such a waste of the valuable elements of society; besides that it would be contrary to all moral economy to admit the violation of law to be pardoned at the expense of such as are its ornaments and blessings. No wise government would permit, to any considerable extent, a proceeding which would tend to continue in existence those who inflict misery on mankind, at the expense of those who are its blessings.
Besides, if this practice were common, even upon the supposition that no crime should pass without being followed by punishment as a necessary result, yet such would be the uncertainty, after crime had been committed, as to who should bear the punishment, as would tend to take away all fear of committing offences. The best provision of wise legislation, which is to prevent crime, not to punish, would thus be removed. It would become a kind of lottery who should suffer, and thus the dread of punishment would be greatly impaired, if not entirely destroyed.
It is evident, therefore, that so far from this being a human device, it could never have been thought of as an ordinary mode of procedure. And though there are some traces in history of persons supposed to have presented themselves as vicarious offerings for relatives or connexions, yet they are feebly attested: while among the well-attested records of judicial authority we have no instance, probably, of any person who was himself innocent and upright being admitted as a substitute in behalf of the guilty. Yet that this is the way in which the Infinite Mind has proceeded in laying the foundation of human
acceptance none can doubt but those who are disposed to torture the plainest expressions.
Let us, therefore, consider what circumstances met in this case, and must be supposed to concur on any occasion of this kind, to render fit and proper the substitution of an innocent person in the place of the guilty; and what is peculiar in the character of our Saviour which renders it worthy of God to set him apart as a propitiation for the sins of the world, and annex the blessings of eternal life to such as believe in the doctrine of the cross, and repent and turn to God.
[We now return to the original copy.]
Firstly. It is obvious that such a procedure as we are now contemplating, in order to give it validity and effect, must be sanctioned by the Supreme authority. It is a high exertion of the dispensing power, which can issue from no inferior source to that from which the laws themselves emanate.
For a private person, whatever might be his station in society, to pretend to introduce such a commutation of punishment as is implied in such a transaction, would be a presumptuous invasion of legislative rights, which no well-regulated society would tolerate. To attach the penalty to the person of the offender is as much the provision of the law as to denounce it-they are equally component parts of one and the same regulation; and the power of dispensing with the laws is equivalent to the power of legislation. Besides, so many circumstances, rarely if ever combined, must concur to render such a procedure conducive to the ends of justice, that it would be the height of temerity to commit the determination of them to the exercise of private discretion instead of legislative wisdom.
This condition was most unequivocally satisfied in the mystery of Christ's substitution. When he undertook to bear our sins in his own body on the tree, he contracted no private engagement without the consent and approbation of his heavenly Father. If he gave himself for our sins, to redeem us from the present evil world, it was according to the will of God, even our Father. On every occasion he reminds us that he did nothing from himself, but that only which the Father had commissioned him to do. I have power, said he, to lay down my life, and power to take it up again; this commandment received I of my Father. Hereafter I will not talk much with you, for the prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me; but that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment, so I do; Arise, let us go hence. In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.*
* See John x. 18 to John xiv. 31; 1 John iv. 9, 10-14.